Divine Creation, Modal Collapse, and the Theistic Multiverse


Either a ‘best world’ scenario is true or a ‘no best world’ scenario is true. In a ‘best world’ scenario, God actualizes a world that is unsurpassable. In a ‘no best world’ scenario, for any possible world God actualizes, God could have actualized a better world. A ‘no best world’ scenario precludes theism, so the theist should endorse a ‘best world’ scenario. However, a ‘best world’ scenario leads to the highly counter-intuitive conclusion of modal collapse: the position that nothing could have turned out differently than it did. A tentative solution to modal collapse is if the ‘best world’ scenario turns out to be the theistic multiverse containing many universes.

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  1. 1.

    While Leibniz’s argument for a BW is perhaps the most famous, BW arguments can be found all the way back in ancient Greek philosophy. See Plato’s Timaeus, 29E–30A for his BW argument. Also, although rarely discussed, Immanuel Kant argued for a BW in lectures on philosophical theology. Kant says: “That the world created by God is the best of all possible worlds, is clear for the following reason. If a better world than the one willed by God were possible, then a will better than the divine will would also have to be possible. For indisputably, that will is better, which chooses what is better. But if a better will is possible, then so a being who could express this better will. And therefore, this being would be more perfect and better than God. But this is a contradiction.” In Immanuel Kant, Lectures on Philosophical Theology. Translated by Allen W. Wood and Gertrude M. Clark (Ithaca NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1978), 137.

  2. 2.

    Melamed, Yitzhak and Lin, Martin, "Principle of Sufficient Reason", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2011/entries/sufficient-reason/>.

  3. 3.

    Gottfried Leibniz, Theodicy, (1710) (USA: BiblioBazaar, 2007), § 225.

  4. 4.

    William Rowe, Can God be free? (New York, Oxford University Press, 2004), 89.

  5. 5.

    Ibid., 166.

  6. 6.

    Myron Penner, “Divine creation and perfect goodness in a ‘no best world’ scenario,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 59 (2006), 39.

  7. 7.

    Myron Penner, “Divine creation and perfect goodness in a ‘no best world’ scenario,” Ibid, 39–40.

  8. 8.

    By ‘God’ I refer to perfect theology of classical theism; Also, God choosing to actualize U over other possible universes does not rule out the possibility of humans actualizing certain states of affairs. If humans have libertarian freewill, then they participate in (at least some of) the actualization of U.

  9. 9.

    If U represents our actual world then the set of worlds in this scenario looks like: {U, U + 1, U + 2, U + 3, and so on ad infinitum}.

  10. 10.

    I am indebted to Myron A. Penner for giving me the idea to formulate my thesis as a dilemma.

  11. 11.

    It should also be noted that even if the PSR were false as applied to everything (e.g., all necessary or contingent facts), that this argument could still work with a weaker claim. Even theists who reject the totality of the PSR might think that it still applies to God. That is, the classical theistic conception of God denies that God can ever act without a reason.

  12. 12.

    Note that it does not matter whether or not there are an infinite number of possible worlds in a NBW scenario. While any world, an infinite set will have infinite number of worlds worse and also better than it, members of an infinite sense can be ranked. So it still makes sense to understand worlds as better or worse than each other within an infinite set. This means that it is not the case that actualizing any world is as good as any other world.

  13. 13.

    I am grateful to the anonymous referee who brought this objection to my attention.

  14. 14.

    This is a clear move away from the Leibnizian picture of one unique best world. If it could be argued that the PSR and PB point to only one unique best world, then it may well be that this scenario with set S is incompatible with theism (on the assumption that the reasons dilemma succeeds). This also assumes a principle of plenitude which I do not have room to defend here.

  15. 15.

    Klaas Kraay, “Theism and Modal Collapse,” American Philosophical Quarterly, (2011): 361–372.

  16. 16.

    Laura L Garcia, “Divine Freedom and Creation.” The Philosophical Quarterly vol. 42.167 (1992):204–205.

  17. 17.

    Kraay also makes this distinction.

  18. 18.

    This, of course, assumes a libertarian account of free will. Many philosophers reject a libertarian account of free will and argue that the ability to do otherwise is not a requirement for free will. This is a much larger issue that cannot be fully answered here. However, it seems that many theists are indeed libertarians with respect to free will so they will feel the pressure of this objection.

  19. 19.

    This is true if we are thinking of worlds as maximal states of affairs but we will see later on that there are other views on this.

  20. 20.

    One idea to reflect on is whether Molinism, with respect to God’s foreknowledge could help provide a solution. If God knows every counter-factual, then perhaps, she could create a world where are genuinely free but since she knows the outcomes, she could sill ensure that it was the best world.

  21. 21.

    Klaas Kraay, “Theism and Modal Collapse,” 365.

  22. 22.

    Klaas Kraay, “Theism and Modal Collapse,” 365.

  23. 23.

    Kraay’s view is distinctly different from Lewis’s in this respect. Lewis thinks that every universe is concrete.

  24. 24.

    Thanks to an anonymous referee for recognizing that I needed to be explicit about the concept of possible worlds being used.

  25. 25.

    Thanks to Myron A. Penner for bringing the idea and force of this objection to my attention.

  26. 26.

    See Kraay’s “Theism, Possible Worlds, and the Multiverse,” Philosophical Studies vol.147 (355–368).

  27. 27.

    Saul Kripke quote in David Lewis On the Plurality of Worlds, (USA: Blackwell Publishing, 1986), 195.

  28. 28.

    David Lewis On the Plurality of Worlds, (USA: Blackwell Publishing, 1986), 196.

  29. 29.


  30. 30.

    Paul Sheehy, “Theism and Modal Realism.” Religious Studies, vol. 42, no. 3 (September 2006), 319.

  31. 31.

    Despite his best efforts to avoid charges of Spinozistic determination, most contemporary philosophers see Leibniz’s position as leading to a kind of hard determinism.


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I would like to thank Daniel Considine for his comments on an earlier version of this paper that I presented at the Mountain-Plains Philosophy Conference (October 2011). Michael De also provided helpful comments on another version of this paper presented at the annual Western Canadian Philosophical Association Conference (October 2011). Also, many thanks to both Myron A. Penner and Klaas J. Kraay for comments on various drafts of this paper, along with numerous discussions on related topics. I would also like to thank two anonymous referees from Sophia for their insightful ideas on how to improve this paper. This project was made possible, in part, by funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

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Correspondence to Kirk Lougheed.

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Lougheed, K. Divine Creation, Modal Collapse, and the Theistic Multiverse. SOPHIA 53, 435–446 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11841-014-0404-6

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  • Problem of no best world
  • Principle of sufficient reason
  • Theistic multiverse
  • Leibniz
  • William Rowe
  • Klaas J. Kraay
  • Myron A. Penner